Districts ask state to delay releasing student test results

Superintendents concerned over data's accuracy

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Superintendents across Pennsylvania are calling on the state to delay its release of new school performance system results until the state is certain the data is correct.

While there was no official vote taken, about 30 superintendents who are on the board of governors of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators asked for a delay at a meeting in Harrisburg Friday with a state Department of Education official.

"Our membership there urged the department to delay the release until they can clean up the data and provide districts an adequate opportunity to correct any errors," said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the administrators association.

Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said she concurs with the association's request.

The department this week delayed the release from Monday to Friday. Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Friday afternoon that there would not be another delay.

The release will include a new School Performance Profile, which will give each school a score based on performance.

The profiles will affect the public image of all schools and will be used to label and provide supports to Title 1 schools, which serve certain percentages of low-income children.

A key issue is the problem surrounding the results of the new Keystone Exams given in algebra 1, literature and biology. The state plans to use only the results of students who took them as an end-of-course exam for the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System, known as PVAAS, which measures how much a student's test performance grew in a year.

However, because the exams are new and replace the 11th-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, many juniors took the class well before they took the test.

Now there is a problem with proper coding of which students are which. This problem affects primarily secondary schools and not results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests taken in grades 3-8.

The state has given schools until Monday to ask to have their value-added data excluded for now. If the request is granted, the state will compute a score using the other available data for release Friday and then issue a new score in January after the correct growth data is added.

Quaker Valley School District Superintendent Joseph Clapper, who is on the board of governors and attended the meeting, described the group as "pretty vocal."

"All of them [superintendents] were expressing chagrin over inaccurate data -- data that almost by the hour changes on the website. It's not just the Keystone growth data. Other data are incorrect as well."

Mr. Clapper said, "It seems to me the ready, fire, aim approach is not the right tactic to take when you are rolling out a brand new evaluation tool for school districts and individual schools."

The department official at the meeting was Michele Sellitto, who had been assistant director of the Bureau of Teaching and Learning and is continuing to work on this project in retirement.

When the end-of-course coding error surfaced last week, Mr. Eller said districts were to verify that the correct information was marked in the test booklet, saying instructions were in the assessment coordinator manual given to districts prior to the exams.

Some district officials took issue with that, saying there were conflicting or confusing directions.

In the North Hills School District where students took the test online, Jeff Taylor, assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and special programs, said he understood the instructions to say there was no need for his district to put end-of-course coding on the individual tests being administered online.

However, after the test, he said students told teachers that a box popped up on their screen asking if it was an end-of-course test for them. Some answered correctly, but some were confused about what it meant.

Mr. Taylor said he believes students should not be the ones to indicate whether their tests were end-of-course exams.

"You are putting a lot of accountability in the hands of a student," Mr. Taylor said.

In Quaker Valley, which is also having Keystone growth results suppressed, Mr. Clapper said the district's data shows 126 students took the Keystones as end-of-course exams while the state recorded just 17.

In addition, the state data shows 158 students took the PSAT while Mr. Clapper said district data shows 131 students took the test.

At City Charter High School, Downtown, Ron Sofo, CEO and principal, said his students took end-of-course exams in July, but the state so far won't count them for 2012-13 because the exams took place after the end of June. The 2012-13 school year for City High ended in late July.

He said that would be an injustice.

"We know historically that we're a strong school when it comes to growth over time," Mr. Sofo said.

education - state

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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